Behind stingy defense and opportunistic hitting, the sixth-seeded Post 64 Panthers advanced to the Junior Zone 3 American Legion winners' bracket final with a 4-3 triumph over second-seeded Cabot White on Sunday at Panther Field.
Behind stingy defense and opportunistic hitting, the sixth-seeded Post 64 Panthers advanced to the Junior Zone 3 American Legion winners’ bracket final with a 4-3 triumph over second-seeded Cabot White on Sunday at Panther Field.
Heber (5-4) backed up pitchers Slade Welch and Shayne Kimble with flawless defense and the Panthers erased a 2-0 deficit with three runs in the bottom of the third inning.
Kimble, who relieved Welch with the bases loaded and one out in the top half of the third, struck out two straight batters to keep the Panthers within reach heading into the bottom half.
“Kimble came in a helped us out a lot right there,” said Heber Manager B.J. Greene. “Slade I thought velocity wise was really good today. He just couldn’t find the strike zone there in the third. He threw a lot of pitches early but even with that he kept us in it and Shayne shut the door on them. We had some timely hitting and it started falling in place for us. It’s kinda odd how baseball is.”
Greene is very pleased with how his young bunch, which includes seven underclassmen starters and four future freshmen, is progressing as a team.
“I think right now we are playing as good as we have played in my two years here,” said Greene. “I think these past two games are the best we have played out of any of the teams we have put out there. Hopefully we can win tomorrow [Monday] and get in that final game and go to state.”
The Panthers, who entered Monday’s game two wins away from the state tournament, fell behind 2-0 in the top half of the first as Cabot’s Tyler Fowler singled and Brandon Jones walked, setting the stage for Dalton Hurst’s two-out, two-run single laced up the middle.
After Kimble escaped a bases loaded jam in the third, Post 64 manufactured three runs on one hit in the bottom half starting when Conner Lindsey drew a full-count walk. Jacob Bremmon stroked a single to center field and both he and Lindsey moved into scoring position on Welch’s sacrifice bunt.
Kimble followed with a ground ball to shortstop Ethan Smith, who was playing in at the grass. But Lindsey beat Smith’s throw to the plate, allowing Kimble to reach on the fielder’s choice.
With runners at the corners, Kimble swiped second, drawing an errant throw that allowed Bremmon to score easily as Kimble scampered to third. Designated hitter Brandon Loethen followed with an RBI sacrifice-fly lifted to right field, scoring Kimble as the Panthers took a 3-2 lead.
“Our problem all year has been we will get up and coast or get behind and shut it off,” said Greene. “We have been preaching all summer when you get behind keep playing and good things will happen. I am hoping in the long run the kids’ success will help build our high school program.”
Cabot White loaded the bases for the second straight inning in the fourth, but Heber once again escaped – this time with no harm. With one out, Hurst sent a blooper to shallow right field where Lindsey made a marvelous over-the-shoulder basket catch in full stride.
Cabot’s runner broke early for home without tagging up and Heber alertly turned Lindsey’s catch into an inning-ending double play once the appeal was made a third base, taking a potential run off the board and leaving the Panthers’ lead at 3-2.
Post 64 scored what ended up being the winning run in the bottom of the fifth as Lindsey belted a double to the alley in right center and he scored moments later when Bremmon lined a single to right field.
The Panthers gave back a run in the top of the sixth as Smith led off with a walk and Logan Edmondson worked another free pass before Hurst looped a run-scoring single into shallow right field.
Smith scored easily on the play, then as Edmondson came around third base right fielder Steele Spicer overthrew his cutoff man but Kimble saved the day by alertly backing up the throw and relaying to second base to cut down Hurst before Cabot’s tying run could cross the plate.
With Heber clinging to a 4-3 lead entering the seventh, Kimble slammed the door by retiring Cabot White in order – first inducing a groundout. Kimble, who will be a junior next year, fanned the final two batters for his fifth and sixth strikeouts of the game, preserving the Panthers’ victory.
Catcher Sam Lee and center fielder Pierce Mitchum played near bulletproof defense in the Panthers’ first two tournament wins. Lee gunned down three of four runners trying to steal and picked off another on a play in which he faked to second and threw out a runner at third base.
Mitchum made a dazzling sliding basket catch in right center to take away an extra base hit versus Searcy and the future sophomore phenom also showed off his arm, gunning down a runner at third on a tag-up play.
Chandler Jones, who recently returned from a seven-month rehab assignment due to a broken foot, injured his ankle against Searcy. Jones is a standout player on both the Heber high school baseball and football teams. The future senior missed the entire high school baseball season.